Roberts R-line S1
FOR Sizable sound; clear and balanced; easy-to-follow app AGAINST Midrange has hard edge; more services needed
No matter how many radio brands come along with designer labels and funky multicoloured designs, Roberts will always have one thing on its side: a rich heritage built on trust and, as holder of two Royal Warrants, tradition. The British company has far exceeded its humble beginnings over 80 years ago as a purveyor of radios with only a handful of employees and a single-figure weekly production yield.
Its radio products have seeped into the wireless speaker market with much success: the Revival istream 2 and Award-winning Stream 93i, for instance, bagging five-star reviews from us. So maybe casting its sights towards multiroom isn’t so much of an ambitious gamble as a natural stepping-stone on the path of modern home audio.
Roberts’ multi-room Rline comprises six wireless speakers, in three ranges: the Rseries, Sseries and a single soundbar.
The Sonos influence
While the Rseries speakers, with their tan leather strap and (optional) portable battery pack, look suitable for an afternoon picnic in the park, the two-strong Sseries is more like your standard, mainspowered Sonos rival. Here we have the entry-level model, the S1.
It has become customary for us to compare any new multi-room product to a Sonos, which is unfortunate for the competition. The multi-room mogul is undoubtedly an inspiration for many entering the market, and Roberts hasn’t tried to hide that at all. Not when it comes to looks.
With a curved tubular design and grille wrapping hiding its two tweeters and single woofer, the S1 looks very similar to the Play:1. Despite the cheap plastic feel of the top panel and the buttons on it, the S1's immaculate finish is nicely decorated with silver accents, giving it some of the retro styling that defines Roberts’ products.
But the features list is even more impressive. Once hooked up to your local network, via wi-fi or ethernet, the S1 can stream music from your PC, NAS drive or Spotify streaming service, and play internet radio channels.
Erratic internet connection? Off-air music playback is also possible via Bluetooth (there’s NFC for one-touch pairing) and a 3.5mm input on the S1’s rear. That’s one over on Sonos, certainly.
Roberts is on a level playing field with Sonos when it comes to file compatibility, choosing not to fly the hi-res flag but tapping out at Cd-quality. But it fails to snap at the heels of its competitor’s vast streaming service support, which alongside Spotify includes Tidal, Amazon Music and Google Play Music. Roberts will need to build its repertoire to be in the running as the next multi-room marvel.
We can only hope that’s possible, as, instead of investing in its own proprietary app, Roberts has opted to run with Undok, a universal app used by the likes of Ruark Audio and Revo. Undok is compatible not only with the Rline range, but older models like the Stream 93i too, and we’re pleased to report it works smoothly with the S1. The interface couldn’t be simpler, with most functions under three selfexplanatory tabs: Source, Now Playing and Browse. It doesn’t loiter loading our various music libraries, and there’s very little hesitation when it comes to pairing and ungrouping speakers. All in all, it’s a painless experience – as it should be.
Hot under the collar
There’s a switch on the back to change the presentation between wide and normal, but even with the latter activated there’s less to be excited about in the sound department. Yes, the S1’s undoing is nigh.
It throws out sound much further than its proportions suggest, and for that reason doesn’t have to be consigned to small rooms. Reasonable detail spreads through a soundfield that’s balanced, crisp and snappy from top to bottom.
A vocal talent, it seizes Nina Simone’s throaty vocal in I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, projecting it with confidence and largely getting across the dynamic emphasis she places on certain lyrics. But it is let down by a hardness that tarnishes the upper midrange, and that doesn’t settle down even after a weekend’s run-in.
While the soundstage is spacious, poor timing and organisation gets the S1 a little hot under the collar when fed dense material – the labyrinthine electronics in Front Line Assembly’s Deadened, say. The Sonos Play:1 is a more engaging listen, carrying the track’s trippy dubstep rhythms with greater clarity and energy, and offering more insight into the layered synths.
Roberts has successfully strayed from its home turf before, but this time the venture is as much miss as hit. While looks and user experience can’t be faulted, features and sound quality need to be better than ‘okay’ before we recommend it takes up shelf space in one of your rooms, let alone several.
The multi-room market is heavily influenced by Sonos, but Roberts has made little attempt to hide it
Connect the S1 using the ethernet option for the most stable results
VERDICT The S1 is nice to use, but its average sound quality puts it a long way down the multi-room leader board